The Bullshit Web and Our Responsibility
My home computer in 1998 had a 56K modem connected to our telephone line; we were allowed a maximum of thirty minutes of computer usage a day, because my parents — quite reasonably — did not want to have their telephone shut off for an evening at a time. I remember webpages loading slowly: ten to twenty seconds for a basic news article.
At the time, a few of my friends were getting cable internet. It was remarkable seeing the same pages load in just a few seconds, and I remember thinking about the kinds of the possibilities that would open up as the web kept getting faster.
And faster it got, of course. When I moved into my own apartment several years ago, I got to pick my plan and chose a massive fifty megabit per second broadband connection, which I have since upgraded.
So, with an internet connection faster than I could have thought possible in the late 1990s, what’s the score now? A story at the Hill took over nine seconds to load; at Politico, seventeen seconds; at CNN, over thirty seconds. This is the bullshit web.
Do you also build products and things for and on the internet, like me? I do not necessarily want to make quoting people a regular thing here, but the article “The Bullshit Web” makes the rounds on the internet these days. And it spoke to me. You see I do build websites and web apps. And I built them for bigger corporations. And integrating trackers and ad-networks and all this nasty things that slow down the web-experience for our users and makes the web slow and bad…well I included some of them during the last years. Of course it seems like it isn’t always easy to say no to requests like that. The executives of your clients want to have these things, because that’s what their “business models” forces upon them. And most of the times, if you don’t include them, somebody else will. Perhaps you risk the well-being of your employer and the other employees, if you do not do that. Because BigCorp™ will just go somewhere else instead. But perhaps we’ll have to find a way. At least in Germany right now, the market for developers is a sellers-market. That means we as developers can almost freely choose where we want to work. Everybody is looking to hire new devs, the salaries went through the roof and it’s easy to find new work if you accept the many recruiters' offers. So losing your job might be possible, and it’s a hassle to have a new one even if finding one is easy — I know. And still. If anybody has the means to change things and habits like that, it’s us as developers. Along with the companies we work at and the colleagues we work with. I know I am a bit idealistic, I was with the GDPR before, and I am again now.
When discussing with clients who want to have all these trackers and beacons… I was thinking about how one could argue that getting rid of them is in their best interest. One thought that came to my mind is, that these models aren’t as successful for (e.g.) newspaper companies, as they’d like them to be. A few of them (New York Time for example) try to make a subscription model work. You pay them a monthly or yearly price and get access to more content. I believe that users are more willing to pay if their experience is better, I they enjoy the product more than the alternative of not having it. And their target audience is people who value quality-news enough that they are willing to pay for it. And they have the choice between many on-surface similar offers. Couldn’t an offer that separates itself from the others because it values the user’s experience, the speed of the offering, the low barrier for entry, the usability for disabled users more than anything else? Doesn’t a crowd, that’s composed of these millions of users, who stand behind this description I just made, look large enough to be able to finance an online-venture like that?
I am not sure. But I’d like to find out if it’s possible. And that starts with saying no to requests for trackers, beacons, advertisement-networks etc and offering an alternative and a healthy discussion about the pros and cons.
With my clients, I’ll certainly do that even more now. So thanks for the article and the initiative, Nick Heer.
What will you do? Do you care about that?